Football for Engagement

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Back in the classroom, it seemed as if half my kids played football or participated in football cheerleading. We’re two weeks into a season that promises you will not hear about anything else until February. As we know, it’s much better to harness students’ interest rather than try to compete, so here is one football lesson idea for each of the four core subject areas.

Math: Old-Time Fantasy Football

For those not in the know, fantasy football is a game in which you “draft” players in the NFL, assigning points for a range of statistics they accumulate during the week or season. For more information, consult this How Stuff Works article.

It might be hard to believe but before the advent of the Internet, people still played fantasy football—using math instead of constantly updating computers and phones. They would take the stats as printed in Monday morning’s newspaper and compute their scores themselves. Bringing your students back to the “good ol’ days” is a great way to get them interested in statistics, graphing, and even probability.

Science: A Physics Gold Mine

Almost every physics law and theorem is on display during a football game, and NBC has done a great job of producing videos that introduce them in a football context. For example, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, dealing with momentum, mass, and force, is quite relevant to today’s NFL that is trying to lessen the number and severity of head injuries in the game. The videos are paired with lesson plans from Gooru and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation that include materials to help tie the concepts in football to the standards that need to be covered.

Geography: Expansion Study

The NFL is made up of 32 teams, mainly in densely populated cities throughout the US. Occasionally the league studies new areas for potential expansion, which is exactly what the NFL Expansion Project has students do using Google Earth as well as population and economic data. In their scenario, the league wants to expand to 40 teams and needs two teams in each region of the country (north, south, east, and west). Students in small groups study options and then come up with a proposal for the city they’ve chosen.

English/Language Arts: Researching the Time of Integration

The Pro Football Hall of Fame produces a great lesson planning guide for teachers in all subjects, but particularly in English/Language Arts. A good chunk of the lessons deal with the role African-Americans have played in the league, usually asking the students to work on their research skills. If you’re looking for some football literature, the quintessential football novel is probably Brian’s Song, about Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo during the time of integration in the 1960’s. There are also lessons touching on media analysis, poetry, and grammar.